How do UK regulations define proper asbestos management?

There was a time when the now-notorious substance known as asbestos was very heavily used in the UK. Prized for such qualities as its relative affordability, attainability, physical strength, fire resistance, and capability as an insulator, this naturally occurring material was incorporated into a broad range of products that found their way into UK residential, public, and commercial buildings alike.

How do UK regulations define proper asbestos management?

As the years wore on, however, it became increasingly widely known just how perilous asbestos was to human health. This culminated in a total ban being imposed on all forms of asbestos in the UK in 1999.

By that date, however, asbestos had long been widely used for the likes of insulating board, lagging, cement, roofing felt, sprayed coatings, and all manner of other products within buildings up and down the UK. The clear need to control the risks that such asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) presented led to the establishment of stringent asbestos regulations in the UK.

Legislation such as the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 is, today, key to efforts to keep people safe from asbestos, which has been linked to potentially fatal diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer, and is believed to still cause around 5,000 deaths a year in the UK. Failure to comply with these regulations can also bring about serious legal consequences, so it is crucial for proactive steps to be taken to achieve compliance.

But how do the asbestos regulations that now exist in the UK set out what constitutes proper asbestos management? Below, we have explained the situation more fully.

What do I need to know about UK asbestos regulations?

When people today talk about the UK’s asbestos regulations, they are typically referring to the Control of Asbestos Regulations, or CAR 2012. This legislation is aimed at keeping people safe from the health risks that asbestos in non-domestic premises can pose. It is generally accepted to apply to buildings dating from before the year 2000, given that it is properties of such an age that in many cases, will still contain ACMs.

One of the most important things to know about CAR 2012, is the “duty to manage” asbestos that it imposes on individuals and organisations.

The given individual or organisation that is the “dutyholder” for a particular premises is required to take a number of steps to help protect people from the risk of asbestos exposure. Such steps include determining – insofar as is reasonably possible – whether there are ACMs present on their site, alongside assessing the risk of someone being exposed to fibres from any such materials, and putting in place a management plan in order to control those risks.

What do I need to understand about the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012?

As aforementioned, the “duty to manage” asbestos is a fundamental plank of CAR 2012. Focusing specifically on non-domestic premises, these regulations stipulate that the dutyholder must take reasonable steps to determine whether there are any materials containing asbestos in the buildings for which they are responsible. If ACMs are indeed present, the dutyholder must also find out information on the location, amount, and condition of those materials.

In practice, this means an asbestos survey will be needed for a non-domestic property that was constructed or renovated prior to the year 2000. Furthermore, the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) for the regulations that govern such work – the ‘Managing and Working With Asbestos L143’ – should be followed. This recommends that an accredited asbestos surveying provider be used. Additionally, it is expected that the dutyholder will make, and keep up to date, a record of the location and condition of the ACMs (or suspected ACMs).

Using the information that they gain from this process, a dutyholder under CAR 2012 will be expected to assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from any ACMs that have been identified. This information will enable the dutyholder to comply with the requirement to assemble an asbestos management plan. This management plan will set out, in detail, how the risks from the on-site ACMs will be managed. This should be compiled and held in an asbestos register. The assessment of risk should include a priority risk assessment which takes into consideration, amongst other things, the usage of the building itself and those using the building who may be at risk of asbestos exposure.

It will then be necessary for the dutyholder in accordance with CAR 2012 to take the necessary steps to ensure asbestos is adequately managed. This is what is called the asbestos action plan. It is also expected that they will periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements to act on it, which will help make sure the plan stays relevant and up to date. It is important that all records relating to the asbestos, its condition and management be kept up-to-date. This means that, as a minimum requirement, a 12 month reinspection is carried out in accordance with ACOP’s guidelines.

Finally, another important part of the “duty to manage” asbestos, is ensuring information is provided on the location and condition of the ACMs to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them. It is also worth noting that ACOP recommend that Duty Holders undertake periodic asbestos awareness training and duty to manage training in order to familiarise themselves with the latest regulations and safety procedures.

Who is affected by the UK asbestos regulations?

The “duty to manage” asbestos, as outlined in regulation 4 of CAR 2012, is directed at the owner of the given non-domestic premises, or the person or organisation that has clear responsibility for maintaining or repairing the property. In the latter case, the person or organisation may have such responsibility as a result of an explicit agreement, such as a tenancy agreement or contract.

However, while regulation 4 concerns itself with the “duty to manage” asbestos, CAR 2012 doesn’t just apply to those who are responsible for the maintenance and/or repair of a given building, but also employers and employees.

There is a duty, for example, to protect yourself and others from being exposed to asbestos while at work, even if the premises are domestic in nature. This is set out by regulations 5 and 6.

Although it is largely dutyholders and employers that hold legal responsibilities under CAR 2012, employees are also expected to take responsibility to make sure their actions do not result in asbestos exposure for themselves or other people.

The scope of the UK asbestos regulations: what buildings are included?

The “duty to manage” asbestos that CAR 2012 stipulates, covers all non-domestic premises, encompassing such sites as commercial, industrial, and public properties. So, such premises as schools, hospitals, shops, offices, factories, and warehouses are all included in this legislation.

For the purposes of these regulations, though, the term “non-domestic premises” also includes the “common” areas of certain domestic properties, such as purpose-built flats or houses that have been converted into flats. Examples of such common areas include corridors, foyers, staircases, roof spaces, yards, gardens, garages, outhouses, lifts, and lift shafts.

A bathroom or kitchen within a private residence that is shared by multiple households would not count as a common area for the purposes of CAR 2012, so would not be subject to these regulatory requirements. The same can be said for communal dining rooms and lounges in sheltered accommodation.

Why is asbestos management important?

The main reason why asbestos management needs to be practised with the utmost commitment and seriousness, is because of the very severe risk that ACMs can still pose to human health to this day.

Although the importation and use of all forms of asbestos was finally banned in the UK in 1999, this applied to new renovation and construction projects; it did not include a requirement for any and all asbestos that already existed in UK buildings to be removed.

So, even in the 2020s, many buildings dating back from the time when asbestos was most heavily used in the UK construction sector – approximately the 1950s through to the 1980s – still contain this lethal material.

The stance of the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) continues to be that, as long as asbestos is in good condition and is not disturbed or damaged, it poses negligible risk to health. If, however, any such disturbance or damage does occur, loose asbestos fibres could easily be released into the air. This presents the possibility of someone nearby ingesting or inhaling the substance, and being at heightened risk of developing a potentially fatal disease as a result.

So, as a dutyholder, employer, or even employee, you must never underestimate the moral responsibility that you have to help protect human health.

However, you also have a legal responsibility to be vigilant with your asbestos management; a dutyholder who does not have an asbestos management plan in place, for example, could be at risk of being fined as much as £20,000, or being imprisoned for up to six months.

In the cases of serious breaches of the regulations, an unlimited fine can apply, and/or a prison sentence of up to two years.

Conclusion: you must never underestimate the importance of the asbestos regulations

The UK’s current asbestos regulations are strict ones, and there are good reasons for that. While many dutyholders will make the decision to leave asbestos in place within their buildings instead of removing it, this simply underlines the importance of proactively monitoring and managing such materials, to help ensure they do not present a risk to health.

The risk posed by any given ACMs in your premises is not necessarily static; bearing in mind that even the newest asbestos-containing products within UK properties are now more than two decades old, it is extremely important to be alert to the scope for ACMs to deteriorate over time. This will necessitate you having ACMs on your site inspected regularly, and at least annually.

In the absence of proper asbestos management at your site in line with CAR 2012’s requirements, you could be putting yourself and/or other users of your buildings at risk of exposure to asbestos, with the associated possible health consequences. And of course, as we have referenced, this could bring about serious legal and financial risks for you, too.

So, it is of critical importance to be well-informed on the current regulatory requirements, and to achieve sustained compliance with every aspect of CAR 2012.

Are you looking for the highest-quality asbestos management services from accredited and licensed experts in the UK? If so, please feel free to get in touch with Oracle Solutions today, so that we can provide you with a fast and free asbestos quote.

How do UK regulations define proper asbestos management? 1

Written by Jess Scott

Jess Scott has been an all-round asbestos consultant since 1996. That’s nearly 3 decades of asbestos knowledge. He spends his time sharing that knowledge with the team at Oracle and with their clients. Jess's goal is, and always has been, to use my expertise in helping people to comply with the law. This legal compliance ultimately helps to protect everyone from the harmful effects of asbestos. Jess has acted as an asbestos expert witness in legal cases and is involved in many asbestos educational activities throughout the UK.